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How Getting a Gym Membership Helped My Anxiety

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Anxiety is still a relatively new experience for me. Sure, I used to say I was “anxious to get home on time,” or “anxious to get something sorted out,” but I never really meant I had anxiety. It was just a word I used in phrases.

Fast forward to today.

Now I find myself dealing with the whole fun range of physical symptoms of anxiety — nausea, light-headedness, churning stomach, irregular breathing, a panicky sense of wanting to run, an inability to sit still and the need to hide tears that spring unbidden into my eyes.

For no discernible reason.

Having spoken with my doctor, I was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication to complement my anti-depressant, and it helps somewhat, but not completely. I think it’s an important part of treatment and I am grateful to have it, but I don’t want to rely on drugs to feel as good as I can.

So I started thinking more about my urge to run and wondered if it might be something I could use. I’d assumed it was an emotional need to get away from whatever had triggered the anxiety, but I also questioned whether it might be my body telling me what it needed. Maybe it was also an uptick in energy that needed to be released?

Now, before we go any further, I have to let you know I am not a fitness fanatic. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. I love to cook and to eat and this means I’m overweight — it’s been the same all my life. I’ve also led a really sedentary life, enjoying nothing more than sitting in an overstuffed armchair with a coffee and a book and reading the day away. But suddenly, I felt a really strong urge to move. To run. To work my body into a sweat and to shake off some of this anxious energy.

So I joined an inexpensive gym.

And, like the medication, it too is helping. I go every weekday and have come to think of it as my “happy place” — somewhere I can be me with no one else to please, no one to answer to and no one else to think about. And my recipe for enjoying each visit is simple:

  1. Show up. (That’s the biggest, scariest part!)
  2. Climb onto the elliptical. (One small step for me, one giant leap for my health?)
  3. Screw in my earbuds. (Distraction, distraction.)
  4. Load up my playlist. (High-energy 80s hits that show my age. Like totally.)
  5. Close my eyes. (Who wants to see the same news cycle on the screens over and over?)
  6. And work it. (Hmmm…)

And when I am done, I am drenched with sweat, loose-limbed, exhausted… and relaxed. OK, so my heart is beating out of my chest, but I know why. It is not because of some nameless trigger — it’s because I have pushed my body hard. I have achieved something.

I know it’s not a solution that fits everyone – it didn’t even fit me a few months ago. But it does right now. It feels like a positive way of dealing with the panic that descends from nowhere, reaches into my stomach and pulls out my guts. It’s a better way of responding to a fight-or-flight reaction than jumping in my car and taking off, leaving my husband in a cloud of dirt terrified that I’ll get in a wreck. And it’s also a strategy that teaches me something about the bigger battle too. You see, at times during my workout, I just want to stop, give up, go lie down and say “Enough!”

But I don’t. I commit to keeping going for one more minute. One more song.

And that one minute turns into five. Then 10. And the one song is suddenly three tracks ago and still I am on the machine, burning off the anxiety. I am doing it. Committing to my plan, working hard to stay on track.

And that is the lesson I need to apply to my broader life too, outside of the gym. I need to keep going. To keep pushing forward, making progress, crafting a life that is worth living. To accept my depression and my anxiety and still making something great out of each day. To still achieve something I can be proud of. One minute, one hour, one day at a time.

It is a constant goal, and one that I am committed to working towards. Every. Single. Day.

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Unsplash photo via Ricardo Estefanio

Originally published: October 18, 2017
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